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With a significant rent increase on the horizon, tenants living in rent-controlled units continue to organize for a cap on their monthly obligations in the aftermath of At-Large D.C. Council member Robert White’s (D) failed attempt to pass emergency legislation. 

Since February, Northeast resident Lomax Hughes has attended mass rallies, cajoled neighbors and contacted District officials in an attempt to prevent what he called the further marginalization of people attempting to overcome tough economic times. 

Hughes, a contractor who specializes in demolition and excavation, said he and his girlfriend have navigated annual rent hikes of a couple hundred dollars over the last few years. Even though they’ve been able to weather the storm throughout their decade of living in their apartment, Hughes told the Informer that he questions whether they’ll be able to stay in their one-bedroom apartment once the rent reaches $1,700.   

“Before this increase, we capped our monthly expenses at $1,400 and now that has to be adjusted.  We pay our rent on time and make sure everything’s in order,” Hughes said. “It was a struggle during the pandemic, especially when places [of business] shut down. We managed pretty well, but who wants to pay an 8.9% rent increase coming out of the pandemic? People are just getting back to work and some people are still teleworking.” 

Increases will disproportionately impact DC renters

Earlier this year, the Rental Housing Commission in the Department of Housing and Community Development used the rate of inflation to determine the annual change in the regional consumer price index, and ultimately the maximum standard rent increase for rent-control units. 

Rent-control tenants like Hughes and his girlfriend, who are not elderly and without disability, will experience the 8.9% rent increase on May 1. Meanwhile, seniors and those with disabilities living in rent-controlled units will see their rents increase by 5% if they are registered with the Rent Administrator. 

Members of that group can also qualify for rent surcharge exemptions if their household income falls below $85,000 for a family of four, plus or minus $8,500 for each additional or fewer person in the household. 

From the point when landlords receive this notice, they are free to make adjustments at their discretion. DHCD and tenants who’ve spoken with White said they had been receiving notices from their landlords about the impending increases, the largest seen in the nearly 40 years since the passage of the Rental Housing Act of 1985. 

On April 3, White introduced the Inflation Mitigation for Rent Stabilized Housing Emergency Act. If it had passed, the legislation would have capped the rent increase for rent-controlled units at right below 7%, what White described as a compromise between tenants and landlords. 

Council Member Robert White Attempts to Strike a Compromise

However, the D.C. Council, at the request of Council member Robert White, retained his bill. White said that Bowser administration officials cited costs associated with emergency legislation. Per council rules, emergency legislation couldn’t trigger additional spending. In this case, DHCD would have to dedicate funds toward sending new notices and determining which landlords are raising rent. 

The At-large council member has since scrambled to find alternatives, as he told the Informer last week.  “The mayor made a political choice to not allow the Council to consider my emergency rent control bill. I am continuing to look at what legislative and budget options we have to support tenants, particularly those with lower incomes.”

Landlords, like one who spoke to the Informer on the condition of anonymity, said that the rent increase helps meet the costs of upgrading units and paying utilities. This landlord, who owns units in portions of the District and Maryland, said that they and other landlords have struggled just as much, if not more, than tenants who haven’t paid their rent throughout the pandemic. 

While the landlord acknowledged that many tenants experienced hardship during the pandemic, they said that a significant amount have taken advantage of rental assistance and laws that allows them to remain delinquent on their rent up to 18 months, all to the detriment of landlords. 

“We can’t pay water bills or insurance [on our own],” the landlord said. “The money has to come from somewhere. We’re just asking people to pay their bills. It’s about finding balance. There are people gaming the system. There are thousands of tenants for a dozen landlords so it makes sense to go with the masses [but] delinquencies are in the millions. It’s out of control.” 

Tenants Plan to Organize Against Corporate Landlords

In the Mt. Pleasant community of Northwest, Damiana Dendy and her fellow tenant association members are planning to contest the rent hike via a petition that cites a bevy of housing code violations, including mold, broken locks, peeling paint, non-functioning outdoor lighting, and water damage. 

Dendy’s landlord, the CIM Group, told The Informer that Dendy’s building and two other rent-controlled properties owned by CIM Group have been fully upgraded since the company assumed ownership a decade ago. In terms of abatement, the company said that handles mold and pest control issues via accredited contractors and on-site maintenance staff that’s available around the clock. 

When Dendy moved to her rent-controlled apartment in 2021, she hadn’t yet recovered from her COVID-related job loss. Though she has since secured new employment, she said she continues to worry about how she will fare once her rent increases at the end of year. 

What will happen when rent increases take affect on May 1

Dendy said she has similar concerns about tenants in her building and in other rent-controlled buildings across the District. Even though she cited May 1 as the date the increase goes into effect, Dendy predicts that the effects will be felt throughout the year as waves of tenants attempt to renew their leases under new terms. 

In expressing her frustration, Dendy questioned why the D.C. government would set any increase at a rate above inflation, especially for residents in a relationship with corporations that haven’t been able to provide ideal housing conditions. 

“When it comes to rent-controlled units, the landlord is likely a large corporation that owns a lot of buildings,” said Dendy, an organizer with DC Jobs with Justice. “These landlords have been getting inflation plus 2% for years, so why hasn’t it been enough? I’m positive my landlord has enough money to fix the issues [in my apartment building]. I don’t think they need anymore to fix mold and basic conditions that affect health.”

Sam P.K. Collins photo

Sam P.K. Collins

Sam P.K. Collins has more than a decade of experience as a journalist, columnist and organizer. Sam, a millennial and former editor of WI Bridge, covers education, police brutality, politics, and other...

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  1. They Need to Go downtown or Section 8 or the courthouse filled with tenant and landlord complaint section 8 about the rent and repairs and the bills also.


  2. What’s better than rent control? A market in which landlords have to compete against each other for tenants, instead of the other way around. How do you get that sort of market? Not by making it less attractive to supply accommodation (as rent control does), but by making it less attractive NOT to—by imposing a tax on vacant lots and unoccupied buildings. The “vacancy tax”, as it is sometimes called, is not limited to what real-estate agents call vacancies, i.e. properties advertised to let; it also applies to unoccupied properties that are not on the rental market (preferably including vacant land, so as not to encourage demolition or deter construction), and prompts the owners to find occupants in order to avoid the tax.

    Yes, a vacant-property tax is meant to be AVOIDED, not paid. Moreover, avoidance of it would generate economic activity, expanding the bases of other taxes and allowing their rates to be reduced, so that everyone else—including tenants, home owners, and landlords with tenants—would pay LESS tax!

  3. Bowser is a Adrian Fenty crony and you see he has totally left the DC area all together she only cares about her wealth

  4. Yes, in this crisis … and those in charge walk away with a $41,500.00 BONUS after making $275,000.00 in an annual salary. Oh my. And let’s us not forget how much a Landlord walks to the bank with while we all suffer and count dollars to pay our rent, eat, and support our family. Also, didn’t Landlords apply for, and get, a hefty subsidy during the pandemic?

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